The landmark 2013 Nutrition for Growth summit in London firmly put nutrition on the political and global agenda. Hunger and malnutrition often make the headlines, but until the 2013 summit, malnutrition remained neglected. It was through bringing together leaders, businesses, and civil society that financial commitments to scale-up nutrition efforts were made, rather than empty promises. The much-needed investment boost,  US $4 billion for nutrition-specific, and $19 billion for nutrition-sensitive programmes, allowed progress to accelerate. Hosted at the sidelines of the London Olympics, it was envisioned that this would be followed by summits in Rio (2016), and Tokyo (2020). London was clearly just the start for momentum on nutrition, and more importantly, for nutrition financing.

The 2016 Rio Nutrition ‘summit’ however, was a major disappointment, missing political will being a critical factor for this. Political upheaval in Brazil, leadership change in the UK immediately after Brexit, impending elections in many other ‘donor’ countries, and governments in high-burden countries only beginning to be galvanised, created a very weak outcome. Heads of States from both the Global north and the Global south were conspicuous in their absence, and no new financing was announced.

In light of the Global Goal to end malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, the need to meet the WHO global nutrition targets, and the need for money to be put on the table to meet the G7 Elmau commitment to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, the global nutrition community’s motivation to sustain the drive for nutrition was rapidly channelled from Rio towards the Italian G7 in 2017. This made perfect sense, given Italy’s historic association with food security and nutrition, as the hub for the Roman trinity on these issues: the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Therefore, when under the Italian leadership the G7 announced a nutrition event in Milan on 4 November, the nutrition community promptly mobilised to ensure it did not end up being another Rio. And it would have, had unconventional donors and leaders, and civil society, not stepped-up.

The Global Nutrition Summit in Milan on Saturday raised US $3.4 billion to tackle malnutrition. Of this, US $640 million is new money. It was extremely inspiring to see new philanthropic donors from both – donor and high-burden countries, demonstrate in monetary form their commitment to nutrition. These included the Eleanor Crook Foundation (US $100 million), The Aliko Dangote Foundation (US $100 million), The Family Llarson-Rosenquist Foundation (75-100 million Swiss Franks), The Tata Trusts (US $50 million), US-based King Philanthropies (US $33 million), and Nepal-based Chaudhari Foundation, committing to reach 1 million vulnerable people with nutrition and health interventions.

Among traditional donors, DFID demonstrated continued support for nutrition by leveraging some of the newly announced resources to fully unlock its remaining 2013 matched funding (the total matched fund of £280 million has previously been unlocked by the Power of Nutrition, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Nutrition International). It also announced a programme with the Harvest Plus initiative to improve nutritionally diverse and sustainable diets. Additionally, international NGOs and the World Bank announced an intention to spend US $1.1 billion and US $1.7 billion respectively on nutrition by 2020, while Concern Worldwide announced that it would spend US $100 million on nutrition until 2020. It is important to ensure that the money from the civil society organisations, particularly that which is donor-funded, is not double-counted in its contribution to nutrition.

Government representatives from El-Salvador, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Cote’ d’Ivoire, Niger, and Brazil made statements on what had been and will be done to improve nutrition in their respective countries, albeit not making resource commitments, and representatives from Japan, the EU, Canada, US, UK, and Italy also discussed the progress they had made so far.

Financial commitments, relatively high level attendance,  better north-south representation, and a distinct business presence acknowledging their role in the nutrition and food-systems architecture, made Milan a success. However, a few things also made it fall slightly short of expectations. First; no conventional donor announced new resources to nutrition, including the host, Italy. Second; high burden governments did not come in full-force to commit domestic resources, even though the malnutrition crises is impossible to solve solely through donor and philanthropic investments. Thirdly, while alluding to its interest in nutrition and Universal Health Coverage, Japan did not use this platform to boldly announce it would host a Nutrition for Growth event in 2020. And a glaring missed opportunity was the absence of civil society from high burden countries, in particular, from the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement signatory countries, on every panel that discussed nutrition challenges and solutions over the day.

Perhaps what we need is more regional opportunities, led by political leaders, for more high-burden country commitments? We definitely need more innovative financing and solutions through meaningful north-north and north-south collaboration. And we need effective multi-sectoral partnerships, with accountable engagement of businesses, to improve nutrition security along the food systems chain. Continued active involvement and space for civil society in all these efforts is a must.

For now, we can be content in the success of Milan, but our work is far from done. Boundaries need to be pushed with greater zeal to mobilise political will in the north and the south for ambitious and measurable actions for nutrition. Tokyo 2020 will be here before we know it, and we have to be able to stand up with confidence to say how we transformed the lives of millions of individuals worldwide, because we gave them the right foundation through good nutrition.